I-Team: School discipline reports

More than 50K Mass. students were disciplined for illegal crimes

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The 22News I-Team discovered dozens of cases of western Massachusetts students bringing weapons to school and even more incidents of sexual assault or rape all caught on school property.

The I-Team went through three years of school discipline reports. We found parents may not be totally aware of what’s going on after their kids get off the bus.

A first grader brought a knife to a Chicopee school. A 7th grader was involved in a kidnapping at a Springfield school and another 7th grader was caught selling drugs at an Agawam school. Those are just a few of the incidents schools reported to the state in the past three years.

Last school year alone more than 50,000 Massachusetts students were disciplined for drug, violent or criminal related and non-drug, non-violent or non-criminal-related offenses on school property, ranging from sexual assault or rape to bullying.

Schools send their discipline reports to the state each year, but parents aren’t always aware of what happens in their child’s school.

“When we make a decision about whether to share that information publicly it needs to be a serious incident. Not to say that every discipline infraction couldn’t be considered serious, if we’re able to contain the incident, if we’re able to deal with it on site, if we’re able to get the student and the family together to talk what the next steps will be to ensure their safety and the safety around them, then often times we keep it in house,” said West Springfield interim Superintendent Michael Richard.

(A parent might say if we’re going to find out later, why not find out when it happens?) “Often times I think what happens is you end pushing the panic button,” said Richard.

Some parents may want to have students causing these problems removed from the classroom, but that’s more complicated than it seems.  In July, a new law went into effect to lower the dropout rate and ensure suspension is the last resort, moving away from zero tolerance policies.

In the 2013-14 school year, close to four percent of all Massachusetts received out of school suspension, the final school year before the new law was implemented.  Joan Meschino is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

“Zero tolerance in education forums do not work, because it prohibits the school administrators from using their professional judgment and their professional discretion to actually address the behavior issues and the underlying problems,” said Meschino.

Taking a closer look at out of school suspensions in 2013-14, 2.4% of white students received an out of school suspension, 7.4% of low-income students, 7.7% of Latino/Hispanic students and 9.3% of black students had an out of school suspension.

“I do think that unconscious bias can be a problem but I do think that its much more complicated a question than to just say that we have race problems,” said Meschino.

Meschino told 22News that 50% of the discipline cases happen in about 5% of the schools.

Eric Johnson is a school resource officer in West Springfield.  He believes keeping kids in schools helps keep them on the right path. “The goal is not to bring it to a criminal level, but I’m there to inform them that this is what can happen and hopefully that kind of hits home with them,” said Officer Johnson.

The Appleseed Center for Law and Justice has developed a parent’s guide to discipline. She told 22News it is to help parents understand the discipline process.  If you child is involved in an incident she suggest talking to your child about what happened, call the school and ask them about the incident and make sure you attend all hearings and meetings in person or over the phone and to take good notes.

Below you can see reported school discipline incidents over the past three years, broken down by each western Massachusetts school:

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